10 Things to do in Charleroi before flying out of Charleroi Airport
Charleroi does not usually make it to the bucket list of many travellers who explore Belgium. But perhaps it should? The city is undergoing a true revival embracing a new – culture centric – identity. You might be surprised by the sheer number of things to do and see in Charleroi. So why not go on, and give it a try!
Charleroi is located in the lesser known Hainaut Province of Belgium and was once the second most prosperous city in Belgium, right after Brussels. Driven by a booming industrialisation, Charleroi experienced a golden age in the late 18th and beginning of the 19th century. If you look closely, the beautiful Art Nouveau townhouses dotted around town and the magnificent Passage de la Bourse are remnants of the once glorious past of the city.
As industries closed down (mainly coal, glass and steel manufacturing) the city experienced an economic setback. In all honesty, these days it does take a little imagination and goodwill to see through the cracks of the once prosperous city. Yet, underneath a seemingly rough veneer, there is a city brimming with creativity, innovation and paradoxically greenery.
Known as Black Country (due to the heavy reliance on coal industry), it might come as a surprise to know that Charleroi is actually one of the greenest cities in all of Wallonia, as evident when you clamber up one of the 30 slag slag hills (terrils) that surround the city.
Locals (Carolos) have an unparalleled love for their city and have embraced their riches to rags story, weaving it into present day Charleroi. It translates into slag terrils being transformed into beautiful hiking routes, a renown graffiti scene that is backed by the local government and the slow urban transformation of the city with cultural centres mushrooming up.
If you are flying out from the Charleroi airport (also known as Brussels South Charleroi Airport or Brussels South Airport) consider spending a day in Charleroi discovering its heritage. Or take a daytrip from Charleroi to one of many quaint villages that surround the city.
Ten things to do in and around Charleroi
1. Discover the vibrant street art in Charleroi – on foot!
The walls of Charleroi are teeming with creative Street Art. From the famous Charleroi and Bisous M’Chou graffiti to lesser known artists and even a dedicated large stretch of wall under the highway where budding artist can hone their skills. Discover some of the best works of the city in a 5,5km self guided walk of all the main street art in Charleroi.
- Length of the walk: 5,4 km
- Start of the walk: Quai de la Gare du Sud 6000 Charleroi
- Map of the walk: Carolo street art tour
2. Hike up one of the famous Terrils of Charleroi
The Hainaut province has more than a few terrils that can be conquered. The largest concentration however can be found in and around Charleroi (no less than 30 to be precise). We opted to climb the terril des piges to catch a glimpse of the sun setting over the Charleroi.
As we clambered up, my white sneakers turned grey from the black sand that is typical of the terrils. The hike is short, yet deceptively steep! It’s views are quintessential Charleroi: With the Bisous M’Chou graffiti guarding the entrance to the city, behind which the cathedral of Saint Christopher and more terrils loom in the distance. A semi turn to the right provides you with unobstructed views over the Dampremey industrial site, make another semi turn and you will see woodland peppered with houses and – you guessed it – more terrils.
- Location: 15 min walk from Rive Gauche
- Entrance: Underneath the viaduct, through a hole in the wall close to here
- Time to get to the top: 15 min hike
- Best time to go: For sunset
3. Marvel at the Art Nouveau & Art Deco in Charleroi
As the booming coal, glass and steel industry took off at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century so did the population. The prosperous middle class started building new homes for themselves according to the latest fashion – Art Nouveau and (a little later) Art Deco!
If you are into architecture, I suggest you take the Art Nouveau and/or Art Deco self guided walking tour and explore a lesser known side of Charleroi.
4. Dig into the mining history of Charleroi: Bois du Cazier Charleroi
A former mining site which has turned into an interesting museum about – you got it – the mining industry in Charleroi. Walk up the terrils for a breath-taking view of the site and Charleroi, it is here that you will get a true feel for the amount of terrils the city holds!
Snake your way back down to the mining shafts which hold the memorial to the 256 mine workers that lost their lives in 1956.
Next up, hop inside and learn all about mining. The museum includes a neat reproduction of a mining shaft, an impressive array of machinery and a train that workers would use to get to work.
- Location: 3.5 km from Rive Gauche
- Getting there:
On foot: Walk from the station Charleroi Sud (45 min walk)
Bus: TEC Bus 1 en 52 ( from Charleroi Sud station) stop at Bois du Cazier
Car: Ample parking foreseen in front of the museum (free of charge)
- Entrance Fee: €8 for adults
- Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 09.00 to 19.00; Saturday & Sunday 10.00 to 18.00
5. Visit one of the most charming villages in Belgium: Thuin
A mere 20 minutes ride out of Charleroi, deep in the Belgian countryside lies one of the quaintest little villages in Belgium: Thuin. This village took me completely by surprise, not just by its mere existence (being a local, I had never heard of it!) but by its charm and surprisingly lustrous history.
The highlight of the city is without a doubt their hanging gardens which consist of 200 terraces that used to contain fruit & veg to feed medieval Thuin. These days the terraced gardens contain another very important nutrient: Grapes to make local wine!
The best viewpoint over the hanging garden and the UNESCO classified belfry can be found all the way at the end of the street called Chant des Oiseaux. An early morning photography mission proved very fruitful when the pink morning sky gave way to rolling mist coming up from the valley and shrouding the belfry in mystic.
- Location: 20 kilometers outside of Charleroi
- Local speciality: If you can, get your hands on the local cake made with marzipan and almonds (Pavé de Thuin)
- Getting there from Charleroi: Take a direct train from Charleroi Sud to Thuin (ride time 15 min)
6. Rent an E-Bike and ride around the Sambre River
If you have a bit more time on your hands, think about renting a bicycle in the village of Thuin and cycle around the beautiful Sambre River. The terrain is hilly, so unless you want a proper workout for those glutes, think about going for an e-bike.
We opted for e-bikes from the concept store in Thuin and cycled the following loop: Thuin – Aulne Abbey – Distillery of Biercée – Thuin. The loop took us through the beautiful Belgian countryside and its gentle rolling hills.
If you are looking for a longer bike ride, you can find inspiration for routes here or here.
- Location: Concept Store, Rue T’Serstevens 20 – 6530 Thuin
- Cost: €18 for 4 hours
7. Explore a lesser known abbey of Belgium: Aulne Abbey
Originally built in the 7th century AD as a Benedictine monastery before becoming one of the 17 Cistercian monasteries in Belgium (of which the abbey of Villers la Ville is possibly the most famous one in Belgium). Sadly the monastery and the magnificent library were burnt down during the French revolution in the 18th century.
Today the ruins still from a testament to the magnificent building that once stood here. As one cannot enter the ruins, nature has slowly started taking over again with lush ivy winding its ways through the clerestory windows adding a welcome dash of color to the black and white stones.
- Location: 10 kilometers from thuin; 14 km from Charleroi
- Entrance Fee: €3
- Opening Hours: April to June: Wednesday to Sunday 13.00 – 17.00
July and August : 7 days a week 13.00 – 17.00
- Getting there: Make a daytrip out of it and visit Thuin and the abbey at the same time. From Thuin you can opt to take a scenic bike ride (30 min) or drive (17 min).
8. Liquor up at a local distillery: Distillery of Biercée
The distillery of Biercée was the very first to start producing gin in the region, and to this day continues to do so – amongst other things! The distillery is located in a quaint old farm which has a restaurant, bar and ofcourse the distillery itself on site. Guided visits can be organised but are not a prerequisite to enjoy the premises or the spirits brewed here.
- Location: 10 kilometers from Thuin; 22 km from Charleroi
- Entrance Fee: None unless you want a guided visit in which case you pay €9.5
- Opening Hours: Monday & Tuesday: 09.00 – 16.30; Wednesday to Sunday: 12.00 – 18.00
9. Lace up your boots and walk La Boucle Noire of Charleroi
For those of you that like a more active holiday, why not try the 22 km loop hike around Charleroi aptly called “La boucle noir” (the black loop). The route takes you up and over various terrils, through the former steel factory of Forges la Providence, the former coalmine of le Martinet and you even cross the river Sambre.
- Start of the trail: Charleroi South Station. Find the full route on the website la ‘Chemin des terrils’ or head over the tourism office to pick up a copy.
- Duration of the trail: 22 km in +- 6 hours
- Difficulty of the trail: Moderate
- Clothing: Bring hiking shoes as the terrils are made up of sand and a shoe with a good grip is required to climb them.
10. Spend a day visiting some of the best museums in Charleroi
My time in Charleroi was sadly too short to discover the multitude of different museums the city houses. Here are a few of the best ones to choose from:
Where to stay in Charleroi
As there is plenty of things to do in Charleroi, perhaps spending a night before flying out of Charleroi Airport is a great way to get your holiday started.
- ($) Charleroi Youth Hostel: Newly built youth hostel in the centre of Charleroi. With fast WIFI, a cosy communal area and warm showers this youth hostel is perfect for the budget traveller.
- ($$) Ibis Charleroi Airport: Budget hotel that is conveniently located right off the airport.
- ($$$) Novotel Charleroi: This 4-star hotel has all the comforts of home and then come. Has 24 hour room service and an extensive wellness centre.
How to get to Charleroi and Charleroi Airport
From Brussels to Charleroi
A. Brussels to Charleroi City
- By train: Direct trains run daily between Brussels and Charleroi Sud. Train time is around 1 hour and ticket prices cost €9.70 one way. Tickets can be bought online or at the train station
B. Brussels to Charleroi Airport
- By Bus: Take the shuttle bus from Brussels Midi Station directly to Charleroi Airport. Timetables and tickets can both be found online. The bus takes around 55 minutes and costs €15 one way.
- By Train & Bus combo: Take the train from Brussels Midi to Charleroi Sud station from where you hop on the direct bus to Brussels Charleroi Airport. Total time on public transport 1h20 minutes.
When purchasing your train ticket, you can purchase your bus ticket at the same time online up to 31 days in advance.